Put all these findings together and you get a much different portrayal of this generation of emerging adults than we are used to hearing — not a generation of selfish slackers but, rather, a generous generation with a big heart.
This may be just what the world needs to face the challenges that lie ahead. The biggest problems of the present and the future are mostly global problems, not just local ones. Financial meltdowns, terrorism and climate change are challenges that cross borders, and no part of the world is invulnerable to their consequences. With their sense of empathy for people who are different than they are, and with the direct experience many of them will have from traveling or working with people in other parts of the world, they will be well-prepared to work on global solutions to global issues.
Even their much-derided absorption in new technologies promotes this generous and interconnected view of the world. Today's young adults have grown up playing electronic games and talking in chat rooms via the Internet with "friends" they will never see, who could live anywhere, and this global awareness prepares them for later international contacts and connections. New technologies have given them a sense of being citizens of the world, part of a great global family, and have promoted their sense of empathy and generosity toward people all over the world.
So next time you hear someone belittling this generation, remind them of the other side of the story. Despite all the criticism, they may be actually the most generous generation we've seen to date.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is a research professor of psychology at Clark University and author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties. Elizabeth Fishel is a widely published writer on family issues and the author of four nonfiction books, including Sisters and Reunion.